Stuff in My Old Cottage

by Liz Dowling

My husband and I bought a 1910 cottage on Block Island, RI thirteen years ago.  This is after we tortured our buddy Gail Heinz for seven summers looking at everything for sale on the island.  It might be my imagination, but I think when Gail saw me coming down the path to her real estate office she would pull down the shades.


The house we finally bought was an estate sale, no contingencies / no inspection, and all of the contents (except the car in the garage and one painting) were left behind.  The prior owner was in her 90s and had lived in the cottage for 50 years…..


Suffice it to say, we had a LOT of work to do.  Shout out to my friend Amy who came over from Newport to help me clean things out (especially the “things” in the fridge, food pantry and bathrooms) after we closed.  She came with six boxes of steel sack Hefty Bags, rolls of paper towel and 409.  We used them all.


Even though our house is only 1,500 square feet, any extra cash we had was used to fix the structural items, leaving the decorating budget on the low end.  Some of the estate sale furniture left behind had good bones.  We had a few spare pieces in our Charlotte house (required towing a u-haul for 14 hours) that we used, and my mom also had some gems she wanted to get rid of.  Buckets of paint and bolts of fabric on sale got me moving.  It is definitely a hodge podge of old furniture, gifts from family and friends and repurposing as much of the estate sale stuff as possible!

This is what that looks like.


Fish cutout in an old screen door.

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My crab lampshade (complete with a little mold) and a flea market metal crab.  Thank you Julie!


My parents 30 year-old, scary comfortable den furniture (not recovered) spruced up with some new pillows.

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A Target shell shower curtain and an old Ball jar full of shells.

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Family pictures on the fridge and on top, the extra hat supply for guests.

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Old porch furniture now used in the living room and our game bookshelf.

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Calico Corners orange fabric on sale and a new Pottery Barn umbrella.



The master bedroom.

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Our family picture wall upstairs and a green/blue/yellow color scheme in the guest room.

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Lilly Pulitzer on an old consignment bed in our daughters’ room with a nautical bedside lamp.

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Rhino breaking in the new Dash & Albert rug and a repurposed wicker chair in the same room.

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Emily, working hard!

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Our horsehair plaster walls downstairs.

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The rebuilt outdoor shower (used to be a real outhouse!) surrounded by ancient lilac and rose bushes.

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A recovered couch in the living room from Charlotte.  My husband’s favorite metal striper by Stuart Littlefield outside.

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Since the house is so small, everything overlaps from room to room!


We still have a bunch of projects we want to do here, but our pace has been leisurely.  Someday we will put on a new roof, build a real path with lights to the front door and renovate the garage so we can have more guests.  But right now, I have to read a book.


the wry home

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Jean McCormick July 10, 2014 - 9:33 am

Liz-your taste is impeccable! I love the way you mix old and new, high (estate furniture) and low (Target shower curtain is great!), color and neutrals. In addition, you integrate nautical items seamlessly by using them as accents (the light in the bedroom, for example). I have been in many beach houses which have OD’d on nautical. Yours is not one of them!

When I finally get around to redoing my Cape condo (which I have owned for 7 years!), I am hiring you!

Elizabeth Dowling July 10, 2014 - 9:44 am

You are so sweet, thank you! I had a lot of help from good friends who have a great eye and gave me a lot of “gifts” to help round things out. I would love to help you AND I would love to see you too 🙂

Nonie Reich July 10, 2014 - 1:22 pm

Such a great post, Liz. A beach cottage is a treasure no matter what decorating phase one is in. You were lucky to spot this one with all of its “hidden wonders”. I have become a fan of pillows since you helped with our place. They add color, for sure, but for me the bonus is that they offer great support for tired, old summer chairs, wicker or Scandinavian, you name it. The jar of sea shells is a classic. We have a few from years ago and I’m glad we didn’t toss them. And I love the hats!

Elizabeth Dowling July 10, 2014 - 2:04 pm

Your place is a treasure! I bet you can’t wait to get back in it 🙂

Jill Ahrens Moot July 10, 2014 - 2:00 pm

You have done an exquisite job with this summer residence. I especially enjoy your use of color and continuity of theme it makes it so appealing, warm, and truly inviting. How did you do your photo wall, I’m crazy about it. Did you mount 8×10 photos on wood? What a location!!! It looks so tranquil and peaceful. Great Blog.

Elizabeth Dowling July 10, 2014 - 2:03 pm

Thank you Jill! I used 5″ x 7″ glass frames from Pier 1 (I think they still sell them, used to buy them by the box) and would nail one in and the rest followed wherever they could fit! It is fun because we have photos from when the girls were really little until now.

Missie f July 10, 2014 - 4:32 pm

Great stuff miss Liz! Loving the consistent summer imagery balanced with strong pops of color throughout. You make 1500 sq ft feel like a palace. Can’t wait to come back! Missing you in Rye especially at AYC. Chris’s LOL is fast becoming the place to be on Wednesday evenings! Xo.

Elizabeth Dowling July 10, 2014 - 5:37 pm

The LOL! I bet it is a blast. I hope I make one. Thanks for the kind words 🙂

sherry kelley July 10, 2014 - 5:30 pm

Liz – so wonderful to see your house as it is now! I haven’t seen it in ten years and you’ve done so much to make it so pretty. Hopefully, some day soon I will get back there in person!

Elizabeth Dowling July 10, 2014 - 5:38 pm

I am counting on it Sherry, you are so close in Boston….. xo

Amy Harden July 12, 2014 - 8:04 am

Great job great house Liz– you have always had a flair and knew when to add a pop of color. Do I remember marimekko in those early days? Yes that was one hot day when I came out to take a ‘look’ at the place and seem to recall just pulling ‘window treatments’ off rods and just started! A lot of laughs and a lot of trash bags – a good day!!!

Elizabeth Dowling July 12, 2014 - 11:23 am

Without you, I could NOT have done it! So much to throw out…
And the window treatments were burnt orange velvet, in a beach house?
Hot, dusty and went to the floor. Two of those panels alone filled a Hefty Steel Sack!

Maryann Cassidy July 13, 2014 - 10:38 pm

Liz, Your home looks beautiful. I hope that you are enjoying it and having a great summer!

Elizabeth Dowling July 14, 2014 - 1:03 pm

You too!

Melinda Sweet July 14, 2014 - 8:01 pm

The pictures of the house are wonderful. I see a few pieces of porch and other furniture that have been responsibly recycled and redesigned from home. Great that they didn’t go into the bin.
Mom Sweet

Elizabeth Dowling July 15, 2014 - 11:14 am

We are So glad they didn’t go into the bin! xx

Lynne Arizmendi July 14, 2014 - 8:02 pm

LIZ… exited to have caught up with you on this blog… says it all!!! YOU are amazing! Have already passed this on to friends! Love seeing this next chapter in your life……family, memories, bucket lists and major pops of color!! What could be more inspiring!! Lynne Arizmendi

Elizabeth Dowling July 15, 2014 - 11:14 am

So great to hear from you

Erin Ellis July 18, 2014 - 9:09 pm

That must have been so fun going through all those treasures left behind. I just love your style.

Elizabeth Dowling July 19, 2014 - 9:33 am

Thank you Erin!

Katie McD January 27, 2015 - 10:18 am

Absolutely stunning!! What. Charming nest….. No wonder your Mom raves so! Xx

Elizabeth Dowling January 27, 2015 - 10:26 am

Thank you Katie! It is a little nest, for sure. Hope you are feeling better. I know my mom loved her visit ~ xo

Elaine Clark January 29, 2015 - 4:27 pm

What fun to see all your neat photos, you have endless good ideas and the cottage is just
charming ! Thanks so much .

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